The children in the Olivarri family in Houston – all six of them – have been raised on a steady diet of softball and baseball.

Mom, Deedra, played softball from the time she was 8 until she was 15. She has coached her daughter’s softball team, and has encourage her other children to play. Dad, Vincent, is the family’s lone holdout, but he encourages all of his family members as a fan.

Up until recently, however, umpiring was not in the family’s blood.

Jacob was a baseball player having been an infielder in Little League for several years. Now 19, he was hired to be an umpire about a year and a half ago and almost immediately caught the umpiring bug. Younger brother, Nathan, who had made the summer junior team and that is how he learned about the umpiring course. Nathan, however, really didn’t see himself following in his brother’s plate shoes.

But that all changed when Nathan registered for the UMPS CARE Official Leadership Program this past summer at the Major League Baseball Urban Youth Academy in Houston. The Official Leadership Program is a 6-week course which teaches teens umpiring mechanics but also leadership skills, financial literacy and goal setting in the classroom.

Nathan signed up upon his mom’s urging. Jacob decided to register for extra training. The brothers have been calling balls and strikes ever since.

“I learned a lot of the proper movements from this program,” Jacob said.

“I love being behind the plate,” said Nathan, 15. “I like to see all the different catching styles. I like being in the field. I’m always in the action. It’s really fun.”

The children in the Olivarri family in Houston – all six of them – have been raised on a steady diet of softball and baseball.

Mom, Deedra, played softball from the time she was 8 until she was 15. She has coached her daughter’s softball team, and has encourage her other children to play. Dad, Vincent, is the family’s lone holdout, but he encourages all of his family members as a fan.

Up until recently, however, umpiring was not in the family’s blood.

Jacob was a baseball player having been an infielder in Little League for several years. Now 19, he was hired to be an umpire about a year and a half ago and almost immediately caught the umpiring bug. Younger brother, Nathan, who had made the summer junior team and that is how he learned about the umpiring course. Nathan, however, really didn’t see himself following in his brother’s plate shoes.

But that all changed when Nathan registered for the UMPS CARE Official Leadership Program this past summer at the Major League Baseball Urban Youth Academy in Houston. The Official Leadership Program is a 6-week course which teaches teens umpiring mechanics but also leadership skills, financial literacy and goal setting in the classroom.

Nathan signed up upon his mom’s urging. Jacob decided to register for extra training. The brothers have been calling balls and strikes ever since.

“I learned a lot of the proper movements from this program,” Jacob said.

“I love being behind the plate,” said Nathan, 15. “I like to see all the different catching styles. I like being in the field. I’m always in the action. It’s really fun.”

 

Prior to taking the umpiring class, Nathan admitted he really never paid much attention to the umpires. Now his perspective has changed.

It’s also changed his wallet. To date, Nathan has worked about 20 games, and often gets paid as much as $60 per game. The day after he spoke with us at UMPS CARE, Nathan was set to work a slate of four games. With a shortage of umpires across the country, young umpires looking for work are able to find it fast.

“And he saves his money,” Deedra said. “I can’t get a dollar out of him.”

Jacob works as an umpire several days a week, including tournament ball on the weekends.

“I’m always sore from being behind the plate and on the field,” he said.

But no pain, no gain. Jacob would not trade umpiring now. And now, in addition to Nathan umpiring, their sister, Lilly, 17, started umpiring games.

As for Deedra, having her children involved in umpiring has changed her perspective, too.

“As a parent, I used to say things like, ‘C’mon, blue, make the right call,’ “ Deedra said with a laugh. “Now I don’t do that anymore. It changes your perspective.  It makes you a little more patient. It makes you recognize umpires are human.”

Nathan and Jacob got to see the human side of umpires during the Official Leadership Program course in Houston. They had a chance to meet MLB umpires Mark Wegner, Stu Scheurwater and call-up umpire Alex Mackay (pictured below) before an Astros game and hear stories about their umpiring journeys.

Of course, they took notice of the umpires when they watched the Astros in the ALCS.

“I study how the umpire moves and how makes his calls, how he would present himself and I would try to copy that when I would umpire the kids,” Nathan said. “It’s really fascinating to see how the professional level of umpires, how they talk and move and present themselves really.”

L to R – Houston Official Leadership Program instructor Joe Harris, call-up umpire Alex Mackay, UMPS CARE Senior Program Director Jennifer Jopling, MLB umpires Mark Wegner and Stu Schuerwater and instructor Michael Dorantes

The UMPS CARE Official Leadership Program hires local instructor/educators to run each course. In Houston, Michael Dorantes and Joe Harris have been involved with the program since its inception in 2021. The Houston program started with about five students, and when Nathan and Jacob took the course this past summer, the course had grown to about 30 students.

One of the most impactful sessions students have had is participating in a Zoom conversation with retired MLB umpire Jim Joyce – a standout umpire who is often remembered for one call, when Armando Galarraga nearly recorded a perfect game back in 2010. In that call, Jim shares the story of how he felt after missing the call, the death threats he received and the ensuing love he received from the baseball community for his display of sportsmanship.

“The students learned that we’re human,” said Joe, one of the Houston instructors who also umpires at the Division I level. “With the perception that the umpires get when a call’s missed on ESPN, I think that wall was broken down in that conversation. We all have stories. It broke down the barriers of players and officials instead of having players looking at us like we’re robots.”

Michael, who teaches a high school course in sports officiating at a Houston high school, Spring Woods, said it has been exciting to see how the program has grown since it started three years ago.

“I think our first year we had about 5 or 6 kids in the program, so just the growth of the program by numbers speaks for itself,” said Michael, who like Joe also works at the Division I level. “I mean we had 30-plus kids this year. That only happens by getting the word out, by the kids talking amongst themselves, ‘Hey I did this program, it was a success. I’m umpiring. You should do it, too.’ Without the support of the kids and the support of the Astros Youth Academy it wouldn’t be as successful as it is.”

What also has helped is that in addition to having mentors in Michael and Joe, local assignors and associations are continuing to help educate the students. Mike Carroll and Bella Robb are both Minor League Baseball umpires from the Houston area and the Spring Klein Sports Association and have helped students get umpiring assignments.

At the beginning of the course, both Michael and Joe ask the students about their first impressions of umpiring and most of the comments are negative, about how umpires missed a call. But after they take the class, they build respect for the craft and how challenging it can be. When teens like Nathan and Jacob watch MLB games, they are watching Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman but also the umpires and how they are running the game.

What Jacob noticed the most is “just seeing their body language and how confident they are when they make their calls.”

 

Nathan and Jacob received their Official Leadership Program certificates following their 6-week course at the Houston Youth Academy.